Labor refugee activists to mount strong push against Labor embracing 'turnbacks'

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon has fired a salvo in one of the most electorally important battles for Bill Shorten at the coming ALP national conference – whether a Labor government should turn back boats.

Fitzgibbon, a former defence minister, predicted that turnbacks would be part of Labor’s policy for the election. “Let’s have the debate at national conference. I believe that will be the outcome,” he said.

Fitzgibbon’s view represents that of the NSW right, of which he is a member, but the issue is difficult for Shorten and the conference.

It is one about which many ALP members feel passionately; the national conference make-up between right and left is closer and more uncertain than usual; and Labor at the last election was highly critical of the Coalition’s policy.

Shorten is already in a tricky position. When immigration spokesman Richard Marles last year signalled Labor might embrace turnbacks, Shorten slapped him down, saying “the case has not been made out for change”.

But there is a growing feeling in the parliamentary party that Labor needs to alter its policy.

If the conference said an ALP government should not turn back boats, it would be handing the Liberals a big weapon for the election. Together with the tough offshore processing regime, turnbacks have been regarded as important in stopping the people smuggling trade.

The parliamentary party is, in theory, bound by what conference decides, although in practice the MPs have exercised considerable flexibility.

The draft platform for the July conference is silent on turnbacks.

The Labor for Refugees group is gearing up for a strong fight at the conference.

Its national co-convenor Robin Rothfield told The Conversation on Sunday that an amendment on turnbacks was being prepared based on ACTU policy.

Rothfield said the proposed amendment would go to a meeting of the national left in Sydney at the coming weekend.

It reads: “Labor rejects other policies of ‘deterrence’ implemented alongside offshore detention, especially intercepting and turning back boats at sea, or transferring refugees to other vessels for immediate return to their countries of origin without a proper assessment of their claims for protection.

“Such policies needlessly put both asylum seekers and seafarers in danger. Provisions in the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment Act 2014 which facilitate boat turnbacks and give the Immigration Minister the power to secretly suspend the application of Australian Maritime Law and International Maritime Conventions to any vessel must be repealed.”

Fitzgibbon told Sky a range of tools was needed to ensure the flow of boats did not resume and “one of those tools currently is boat turnbacks”.

“Personally I can’t see that there’s an overwhelming argument that turnbacks isn’t an important part of the tool kit.” Fitzgibbon said there was a universal commitment within shadow cabinet to ensuring the asylum seeker flows did not begin again.

The ALP’s incoming national president, Mark Butler, from the left, said that Labor was “committed to making sure the boat passageway between Java and Australia remains closed”.

Pressed on whether he thought that turnbacks should be part of Labor’s policy, Butler told reporters that one of the concerns Australians had with this policy area was “the government’s obsession with secrecy, particularly their obsession with secrecy they have around the turnbacks operations they have in place.

“Particularly around questions involving safety at sea, for everyone involved including Navy personnel, but also the impact on relations with our important neighbour, Indonesia.”

The government is already preparing its counter if Labor does say it will turn back boats. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was out on Sunday declaring that Labor in government would not follow through with action.

Postscript: Mirabella on the march

Former Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella on Sunday won preselection for her old seat of Indi, making the Victorian electorate one of the most interesting contests to come. In 2013, Mirabella lost what had been a safe Liberal seat to independent Cathy McGowan, who ran a campaign based on localism.

Mirabella, who would have been a cabinet minister in the Abbott government, had ignored the signs over years of an eroding vote. Bidding for preselection, she admitted she had spent too much time away from her home patch. “Clearly, I got the balance wrong,” she wrote to preselectors. But some Liberals believe she could be a drag on the party’s vote because of her previous record.

The Nationals have indicated they will also run a candidate. Their strategy has been to position themselves, if McGowan held the seat, to mount a strong bid for it on her likely retirement after another term.

Listen to the Politics with Michelle Grattan podcast, with Labor environment spokesman Mark Butler, here or on iTunes. Conversation

Michelle Grattan is Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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Burundians Vote In Parliamentary Elections Marred By Unrest

Originally posted on TIME:

(BUJUMBURA, Burundi) — Voting is underway in Burundi’s parliamentary elections despite an opposition boycott and the threat of violence as police battle anti-government protesters in the capital.

Gunfire could be heard in some parts of Bujumbura as voting started at 6 a.m., and there is heavy security across the city.

In the Musaga neighborhood, which has seen violent protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, there were few civilians in sight Monday as mostly police and soldiers lined up to vote.

The voting is taking place despite calls by the international community for a postponement until there is a peaceful environment for credible elections.

Bujumbura has suffered unrest since the ruling party announced on April 26 that Nkurunziza would be its candidate in presidential elections scheduled for July 15.

[time-brightcove videoid=3987597278001]

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One year on, Islamic State is here to stay – so what next?

Denis Dragovic, University of Melbourne

June 29 marks the first anniversary of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of the Caliphate of Islamic State (IS). In response to his announcement and the atrocities IS committed, an international coalition came together to degrade IS from the skies and subsequently train and arm local forces in their fight against the militants.

Success for the international coalition hasn’t followed for three key reasons. Together, these reasons point to an urgent need to shift strategy and break what has become a stalemate.

Limited US motivation

Were this the first Iraq war it had been involved in, the US would have committed substantially greater resources, both diplomatic and military, to respond to the early signs of a growing militant group. But this is the third Iraq war in the last 25 years.

The US is exhausted. More than 1.5 million Americans were deployed to Iraq between 2003 and 2011 – and another one million to Afghanistan. Incredibly, more than a third were deployed more than once. The cost of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is estimated at between US$4 and US$6 trillion, including future costs for health care and veterans support.

This may be contributing to opinion polls that suggest Americans do not agree with a robust intervention this time around. Only 24% support a large number of troops being deployed to Iraq, while 68% prefer either none or a limited number.

Even the economic fundamentals of this war are against further commitment. One of the US’s many motivations for intervention in the first and second Iraq wars was purportedly to secure its energy future. Today, US oil production exceeds that of Saudi Arabia. This reduces the political clamour for action that would otherwise encourage bipartisanship in the US.

The wrong strategy

We regularly hear calls for IS to be eliminated or destroyed, references to it as a terrorist organisation, and calls for boots on the ground to defeat it. These perspectives have clouded judgements and adversely affected the overall strategy.

At its core, IS’s runaway success is not down to its military capability. Rather, it is due to Iraq’s political circumstances. These include the disenfranchisement of the Sunnis, the corruption of a political class and the politicisation of the government.

This environment has created a demand for a new governance structure that protects Sunnis. IS has responded by being overtly against corruption and avoiding the much-despised style of politics associated with democracy in the Middle East by deeming democracy un-Islamic.

This emphasis upon the political rather than the military has been the key to IS’s rise. In focusing on the political, IS has done what no other jihadist group has managed to achieve: successful state-building.

As if guided by the lessons learned during the international community’s most recent state-building efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, IS’s leaders have successfully focused on the key elements critical to success – building legitimacy, ensuring security and providing basic needs. Undermining IS’s success in each of these should be at the core of any strategy to defeat it.

Murky geopolitics

Although IS emerged from the internal chaos of Syria and Iraq, it is now factoring into the region’s geopolitics as a military force and ideological powerhouse.

While IS lacks overt allies, it receives support as a proxy for the geopolitical ambitions of others. Turkey’s obsession with the defeat of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has benefited IS.

Similarly, the dilemma of arming the rebels fighting against al-Assad, which in turn risks Syria falling to IS, has stumped Western decision-makers. In Iraq, strengthening the hand of Haider al-Abadi’s Shia government to take control of its territory conversely risks furthering the interests of Iran. There are no easy options in the Middle East.

Supporting one course of action will inevitably lead to an outcome vested with its own problems. However, it seems the choice taken by Western countries is incoherent but moral, rather than strategic and pragmatic.

What next?

Recognising that there is little likelihood of a concerted US military and diplomatic engagement in the Middle East and acknowledging that IS functions as a state and not a terrorist organisation should lead decision-makers to drop ambitions of defeating IS. Instead, the West should focus on containing IS’s spread and seek a political strategy to weaken it from within.

IS has spread its militant ideology far and wide. There are 35 groups said to be affiliated with IS in 17 countries from as far west as Mali and Algeria, through Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and India, to Indonesia and Philippines in the east. Stopping the growth of these groups, and eliminating their capacity to finance, recruit and publicise their presence, should be the current priority.

Focusing on Iraq while IS establishes footholds in failed states such as Libya or Yemen will potentially create the same scenario as has occurred in Iraq and Syria: a growing and influential force to be reckoned with. While a rapid defeat of IS in its home territories is now unlikely, the opportunity exists to prevent its ideology from catching on in other countries.

In Iraq, the response should be focused on a carrot-and-stick approach. The stick is continued aerial bombardment alongside ongoing support to Iraqi military troops. The carrot is an enhanced federalism that offers the Sunnis a deal too good to refuse.

Diplomatic pressure on al-Abadi to quickly and forcefully offer Sunnis their own autonomous region could draw away many of the groups that have wavered or even pledged allegiance to IS.

Denis will be on hand for an author Q&A between 3:30 to 4:30pm AEST on Friday June 26. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The Conversation

Denis Dragovic is Honorary Fellow at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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